I’ve been to maybe two garage sales all year. Not only do I lack the funds, but I lack the time and the wherewithall to haul three kids with me everywhere. So this morning, when my across-the-street neighbor was having a yard sale, I was thrilled. (But first, I had to go take my first college final. I did okay.) When I got back, I raced across the street to see what goodies she might have- and what did I see? Oh my lands, one of my favorite things ever:
So guess what I bought? Oh yeah. It’s an Underwood No.5 standard typewriter. First made in 1901. The same kind that Alice Paul wrote her suffragist papers on. And this one even has a ribbon and the original leather (very, very fragile, but whole) cover! It’s beeeeeeeutiful!
And it was sixteen dollars. Now I’m going to give it a little love. The paint and graphics are practically pristine. It’s a thing of beauty. (Bean just noticed it and is laughing and plunking away!)
- F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote on one
- Angela Landsbury used an Underwood on Murder, She Wrote
- Jack Kerouac used an Underwood
- It’s the typewriter used in the film Moulin Rouge
- Harper Lee named a character in To Kill a Mockingbird Mr. Underwood. He was a typist.
- William Faulkner used an Underwood
- In 1901 Underwood introduced the legendary No. 5 model. This model set the standard for the entire typewriter industry allowing Underwood to replace Remington as the top typewriter manufacturer in the world.
- A 1917 Underwood No. 5 in good condition is averaged at $187, according to Kovel’s Antique Index (not that I’m selling it- ever!)
It’s true, I’ve realized lately. In the new paradigm I inhabit with my unwilling and unruly children, I’ve retreated the tiniest bit, back into my nest. Part of it is the divorce and my children’s emotional space- How much can I write about where I’m at without violating their small personal space? I don’t have that answer. It doesn’t help that the loose ends are not all cut yet, and there are ravelling strings blowing in the wind, and as the strings ravel and knot, they become nests of their own. Despite the divorce being legal and final. Is “final” even in the equation when you have three precious children? No matter how big the mistakes that were made? All the non-answers float around my head and steal my sleep.
Jeffrey asked me where my wedding ring was today. It’s the small pebbles in your shoe that trip you up- like a child thinking his parents’ marriage implodes is because he lost the cufflinks on the dresser. No my sweet, it’s not, no never, not ever, your fault. My wedding ring is shut away, with my popped heartstrings, in a tiny white leather box lined in red velvet- crimson on the inside, and when you crack the box, it’s like cracking my heart. “Can I have it mom?” Innocence. You already do, son. The others chime in, nervous the lion’s share is being commandeered by the firstborn yet again- “I want it mom! I want it! Where is it?!” “Mama, can I have your pretty diamond ring, the silver one?” It’s not silver, I hold the words in my mouth, unhatched like a robin’s egg. It’s my remnant, my fossil, child. We shall wait and see. You do not know what you ask…
Something had to give, and it turns out it was “housekeeping”. For a while I thought it was “taking care of me”, because I must like my lessons warmed over for twelve to fifteen years on endless repeat. But I was wrong. And I am finding the path again, mercifully close enough that my feet weren’t far. Just get me through… just get me through… my prayers are like a mantra, giving rhythm and cadence to my day. Get me through, and leave me alone, because I cannot write a paper on the contrast between Aldous Huxley and Camus while singing the song from Backyardigans with you. I cannot do it. I cannot… please child… Two more weeks… Just let me finish.
Guilt. Fear. Frustration. Surrender.
And then ironically, buoyancy. Like a saucer floating over the tides, somehow, what seems impossible comes to pass, and I am left standing on my lawn with my painted red toes wet with dew, watching the sun rise. Somehow, it all works out. What should be terrifying and paralyzing- at least by any logic sensibility- ends up instead being peaceful and, perplexingly if I look at it too long, lovely… I am carried, and peace finds me.
Triumphs with an autistic kid can be sparse a hard-won when they happen. Then, every once in a while, it’s like a switch just clicks over and something miraculous happens. One of Bean’s biggest issues is food. He eats smooth peanut butter and non-bumpy jam on one of three things: toast, english muffins or Ritz crackers. That’s it. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Every single day. For the last, oh… five years? Yeah, that’s about right.
But lately, he’s been edging outward, tentatively- and if I look at him or notice, he runs back to the peanut butter. But he’s eating vanilla yogurt. And bananas- sometimes. This morning, he saw Abby eating a bowl of Cheerios, and then he stood in the middle of the kitchen for a few minutes watching her with open disgust. He hates messes and never gets anything on his face- except lately. Yesterday he ate a fudgecicle, and he had chocolate around his mouth- I let it ride for hours because it NEVER happens. When he finally glimpsed himself in the bathroom mirror, he freaked- but it’s still progress, because it means his food touched him and he didn’t notice. See? Small victories.
So this morning, as he watched Abby get milk on her chin and spill little o’s on the table, I was shocked when he said “Mom! (it’s always an exclamation from him) I want a bowl of Cheerios!” I look at him sideways, not wanting to cause the peanut-butter retreat. “Okay, Bean. Let’s get a bowl for you.” I pour the o’s in a bowl, not making a big deal AT ALL about WHAT A BIG DEAL THIS IS- because that’s what you have to do. Pretend a child who’s eaten the same thing for 5 years asking for a bowl of Cheerios is normal! “Do you want them dry or with milk?” He opts for milk, but wants to pour it himself. This sometimes happens- he sees a food that looks like a fun process, then once the process is done, he won’t go within 5 feet. I am expecting this with the Cheerios. He pours the milk, and I return to my homework- but not really- I’m watching him covertly over the top of my computer.
HE ATE THE WHOLE BOWL.
Only the mother of another ASD child with food issues will understand that I want to SHOUT this from the rooftops! Now, will he do it again? Or was this a fluke? That’s the million dollar question. Welcome to life with autism.
Two things: First, I clearly don’t like to change my thread colors, and just sew everything in off-white. Oh well. Second, what is up with the little girl clothes in stores? We’ve had this conversation before- the hoochie mama clothes and sizing for girls’ clothing is absurd. Perhaps if you have a daughter who is a whisp, some of the clothes available will look cute on her. But whispy girls tend to look cute in everything anyway. No offense to the whisps of the world. All I wanted was a simple sundress for Abby, made from cotton and not synthetic, and without spaghetti straps. Shouldn’t be so hard, huh? Well, I suppose if I wanted to shop high-end I could have more options, but instead I found this one-yard sundress pattern:
Okay, it actually calls for more than a yard, but if you are willing to put a seam up the back and not have a second fold, you can totally jimmy it out of one yard. Once I made the first one, I started to add details, ruffles, trim and what not. Fueled by an Excedrin headache one night, I made all six sundresses for Abby. Stacked ‘em, whacked ‘em and sewed ‘em up. They came out really cute, I think, and they are big, loose and airy- with not buttons or zippers, and are perfect for my girl. And probably for yours too.
Not that I’m glad or anything, but what an amazing gift amid the ashes and rubble. Sarah McLachlan went through a divorce last year and is now raising her two children alone- and guess what her new album is about? I can’t breathe it’s so good. She says:
“I thought I was this person, and part of that is the artifice of the fantasy that we build up to hold up the perceived reality,” she explains, having clearly given it a lot of thought. “It’s all kind of a big illusion: the white picket fence and the perfect marriage and the kids. Check that box off, check that box off, and move forward. And then it all falls apart underneath you, and you’re left to pick up the pieces and sort out, ‘Well, who am I then?’ Because I thought that’s what I was and who I was, and I’m not all that. Or that’s not my life any more and how do I move forward from this place?”
And you ask for forgiveness
You’re asking too much
I have sheltered my heart in a place you can’t touch
Don’t believe when you tell me your love is real
Because you don’t know much about heaven boy
If you have to hurt to feel
I wish wish wish I could show you the snapshot I took yesterday of Abby sitting on the toilet –naked– with only her Darth Vader helmet on, reading a Richard Scarry book. Hilarious. But even I have some limits.
Nothing is wrong, right? I can’t even tell anymore. My soul has been stirred up today, whipped around and disquiet. Ache and worry settle in and wrap around the crook of my neck, hugging the curve of my spine, and shoulders crawl towards my ears in their familiar upward journey of tension and tendons.
I think my neighbor smokes; all day the so-subtle-I can’t pinpoint-it aroma of smoke has bothered me on the edges of my awareness. It couples with nest of tension snuggled in at the back on my head and creates a blossom of uncertainty and unrest.
So many things that need me, so many little hands and hearts and eyes that need me- and I am so distracted by my own seeping worries I cannot even see what to focus on first. So many piles I can do nothing about, that I cannot really find the ones that I can do something about. Sorting. Sifting. Shifting. Culling. Swimming.
My heart wanders the house tonight, looking for a place to rest…
Most of the time I’m fine. But sometimes, the loneliness really gets to me. It did today. I have a lot of good friends, family that loves me, and you couldn’t create a better ward from the ground up. I don’t have a lot to complain about. It’s just that sometimes…
Today my old neighbor called from my big fancy house. The one I left quietly- holding my utterly smashed heart leaking from between my shaking fingers- that house. It’s on the market now. It’s also legally not mine anymore. The phone rang while I was hauling groceries from a quick stop at the market after our family hike this morning. I was juggling three dirty, tired kids, and about 6 bags of food, with 90 degree + temps in the house.
My old neighbor was calling not to say hello, not to chat or ask how the kids and I are faring. She was calling, she tersely informed me, to let me know the yard looks like hell, and I had better do something about it. Stunned, my hands full of groceries and a kid pulling on my leg begging for lunch, I stammered. “The yard? Huh? What?” See, I don’t go by there anymore. I go out of my way to not drive by that house. I think for anyone who knows me, the reasons are pretty obvious- so if the yard isn’t getting mowed, it’s not something in my realm of awareness.
I think I stammered something about the house not being mine anymore, and she could call another number if she was concerned- and she hung up. And for some reason, this just really crushed me. I know, in the grand scheme, it’s not important. But she was my neighbor for three years, and she didn’t care one whit about me or my children, only that a house on her street wasn’t looking up to snuff for the neighborhood. Stupid neighborhood. Stupid appearances.
When she hung up, I went to my room and sat on my bed in the dark. I was sad, but I couldn’t figure out if I had enough in me to cry over this. Odd. All I could put my finger on what that I didn’t know one single soul who who I felt had ever been in my boat. And I bobbed along over the surface of the sea.
Someday, if this is ever all behind me, and I have the chance to own a home again, I have learned two things: you get nicer neighbors in less affluent neighborhoods, and that I think a small house suits me better. So I guess that’s something… right?